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A few weeks ago, within a few days of one another, the subject of malaria came up twice. In an email someone said to me (Pardon me if I’m misquoting.) that Kenyans found malaria scarier than terrorism. A few days later, in a comment thread about the possibility of migrants in Europe bringing in diseases someone scoffed at the idea that they might bring in malaria because it is, according to that person, a “tropical” disease.

That last bit pricked up my ears. Now, I didn’t get a chance to ask that commenter if he was from the U.S. or not. One thing that everyone in the U.S. knows, or at least should know, is that the early English settlers in North America famously built their first permanent settlement, Jamestown, in the middle of a swamp. The very basic, school children’s version of events, is that many settlers died of malaria. From Wikipedia:

It soon became apparent why the Virginia Indians did not occupy the site: Jamestown Island is a swampy area, and its isolation from the mainland meant that there was limited hunting available as most game animals required larger foraging areas. The settlers quickly hunted and killed off all the large and smaller game animals that were found on the tiny peninsula. In addition, the low, marshy area was infested with airborne pests, including mosquitoes which carried malaria, and the brackish water of the tidal James River was not a good source of water. Over 135 settlers died from malaria, and drinking the salinated and contaminated water caused many to suffer from saltwater poisoning, fevers and dysentery.

This, I would like to emphasize, is not controversial or revisionist history. It is the mainstream history children learn in school.

For those of you who are not familiar with the regional climates of the U.S., most of the country is in what people usually call “the temperate zone.” The nearest city to Jamestown with which most people outside of the U.S. are probably familiar is Washington D.C. The average yearly temperature is 13.5°. This is between the average annual temperatures of Paris (11.3°) and Rome (15.5°). To pick Rome as our point of comparison, Washington D.C. is wetter with 1035 mm of precipitation and 115 days of rain.

I suspect many people who are not from the East Coast of the United States are a little unaware of the weather we have here. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter and humid, wet and mucky all year long. And we have lots of swamps. In other words, this is mosquito heaven.

“So, why aren’t people in the U.S. terrified of malaria?” Glad you asked!

During the Second World War, many U.S. military training bases were located in the Southeastern United States, the region of the country that also happened to have the highest rates of transmission. Since governments are never so interested in keeping you alive as when they’re about to send you to get killed, the U.S. government decided to do something about the malaria. They created an Office of Malaria Control in War Areas, which also, by the way, combated typhus and other vector-borne diseases.

These efforts were so successful that at the end of the war and at the founding of CDC, one of the initial tasks was to oversee the completion of the elimination of malaria as a major public health problem.

And how did they do that?

The program commenced operations on July 1, 1947. It consisted primarily of DDT application to the interior surfaces of rural homes or entire premises in counties where malaria was reported to have been prevalent in recent years. … It also included drainage, removal of mosquito breeding sites, and spraying (occasionally from aircrafts) of insecticides.

Map of regions in the U.S. where malaria was prevalent in 1882, 1912, 1932 and 193-1935. Source: cdc.gov

Malaria is today considered to have been officially eliminated from the U.S. in the early fifties.

The next logical question is, “But isn’t DDT bad?” Although in recent days I have read some blog posts in which people have argued it is not, I have not been convinced by them and still adhere to the general consensus that DDT is bad. So is malaria. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you may have come to realize that I believe there are no easy answers in the world. It’s always about weighing costs and benefits, which have to be weighed and re-weighed according to the specific circumstances. Both the right and the left have reason to dislike this little bit of history. For the right, it was a highly successful government program which took on a problem for which there was no “market solution.” On the left, well, that solution used a potentially dangerous pesticide.

A few years ago, there was a brief panic when cases of West Nile virus first started to appear in New York City. I can’t find any articles now, so I’m going on memory, but I remember reading something about how the State of New York was going to develop a mosquito control program in response. I wondered if New Jersey was going to develop a similar program and looked it up. What I found out is that New Jersey has had a mosquito control program since the early 1900s. “That makes sense,” I thought at the time. Whenever I hear the Bruce Springsteen line, “And my machine she’s a dud, all stuck in the mud, somewhere in the swamps of Jersey,” I think to myself, “Well, that could be just about anywhere.”

Those conversations about mosquitoes and malaria came up before the current news about zika. I was going to write this anyway because it’s the sort of undramatic history we tend to forget. I don’t want to be misinterpreted as advocating for one response or another to current problems. I’m not a scientist. I do, however, think it’s important to have our facts straight. The idea that malaria is a “tropical” disease confined to certain highly limited regions is not correct. As you can see from the U.S. maps above, even in the nineteenth century malaria didn’t exist in the mountainous regions of North America or in the dry areas of the West Coast. However, it existed in vast swathes of the country, including the Mississippi river basin all the way up through to the Dakotas (average low daily temperature in January: -20°C – ie. not tropical).

Map of New Jersey color coded by land use. For those of you not from the region, the western boundary is the Delaware River, the south is Delaware Bay and the east is the Atlantic Ocean, so they are entirely surrounded by water.

Maybe when the weather gets a little nicer, I’ll persuade my sister to go on a frog, flower and photo expedition to New Jersey. Believe it or not, the least glamorous state in the union is known for rare orchids and rare amphibians.

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about memes a lot – not the silly “internet memes”, but the original idea that Richard Dawkins first proposed. Annoyingly, if you search on Google for “Richard Dawkins meme” the first result is actually image results of, yes, Dawkins’ photo with silly captions. Below that we do find the Wikipedia entry for Meme:

A meme… is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of how people develop their ideas. For instance, few people I know wake up one day and decide that, although they are totally neutral on the subject, they would like to inform themselves about Marxism, read Das Capital, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, and, I don’t know, maybe some later things like Marcuse or Zizeck, and maybe they read a few arguments against Marxism, Communism and Socialism and after about six months or a year of calm detached study, he or she decides to be a Marxist. Now, I know someone will almost certainly say, “But I did exactly that,” and I’m sure that’s true, especially if someone is assigned books in school when they didn’t really want to read them. However, when I think of friends I knew who became Marxists, mostly they didn’t do that. Their move towards Marxism went in fits and starts. First they have a sense that the world is unfair. They are bothered by poverty. The hear Patti Smith sing “The People Have the Power.” Maybe they watch “Metropolis” or read The Jungle. Ideas come in chunks, which is maybe why I’m relating it to memes. By the time they actually read any theory, they have already accepted some ideas without conscious examination.

This behavior has nothing to do with intelligence. One of the smartest woman I’ve known became an anarchist in this way. This was back in the days before the internet. Eventually, an anarchist newsletter started appearing on her coffee table and she started saying things that indicated that she had actually read at least Emma Goldman. She was so smart. I can’t even begin to describe it adequately. She certainly could have read heavy works. Still, she came to anarchism through punk rock and the East Village club scene. It is very possible that my dislike of anarchism comes from the fact that my very interesting, intelligent friend with whom I was once able to have long discussions in which we could disagree on a variety of things started to become filled with certainties and could brook no dissent. She wasn’t alone in this attitude, the new friends to whom she tried to introduce me were similarly certain and unable to discuss too many things for me to enjoy their company.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I grew up with a highly unfavorable opinion of the United States, despite having no real reason for that.

The other day I heard some Billy Joel. Now, I’m a not Billy Joel fan and it’s rare for me to listen to his records, but I was in junior high school when the albums 52nd Street and The Stranger came out. This was not the height of his fame or sales, but it was the height of his reputation. Just having finished bingeing on multiple listens of those two albums plus “Piano Man” I’m really struck by how influential Billy Joel was on my peers. He was one of us in a way that other performers were not. He was very frankly a lower-middle class kid. In “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” he sings, “From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island, rode a boy with a six-pack in his hand.” Joel was born in the Bronx and grew up in Levittown, a planned suburban community comparable to the one I was living in on the other side of New York City, out in New Jersey. The brutal honesty of “Captain Jack” established a suburban equivalent of “street cred.” For me, personally, as a pre-teen, Captain Jack described a young adult or older teenager who was exactly what I didn’t want to be, an unhappy, dissatisfied person who, instead of trying to change his life, gets high. Now that I think about it, it might done more than all the well-intended anti-drug messages to keep me from over-indulging in drugs. The song evoked the barrenness of suburban life. In the first installment of my memories, I discussed a reexamination of that evaluation, but at the time, growing up in suburbia, I very much felt the dissatisfaction.

The song “My Life” from the album 52nd Street starts with the following lines:

Got a call from an old friend.
We used to be real close.
Said he couldn’t go on the American way.
Closed the shop, sold the house
Bought a ticket to the West Coast.
Now he gives them a stand-up routine in L.A.

When I listened to these lines, which I had heard hundreds of times before and sung along with nearly as many times, but suddenly sounded fresh because I hadn’t heard them in years, an unintended irony made me sit up. We all understood what Joel meant by “the American way,” although it might be hard to put your finger on it. At that time, it was expected that you would go to school, work hard, make a little money, probably not a ton, and spend that money on little suburban comforts, more than necessities but less than luxuries. A slightly nicer car. Slightly nicer clothes. A big teevee. A barbecue grill in the back. The friend in the song rejects this empty life and moves out to L.A. What, however, can be more American than doing a stand-up routine in L.A.? Americans had been railing against suburban conformity for almost as long as that middle class suburban life has existed, but it was the thing they were rebelling against, not the rebellion, that was seen as “American.”

A long time ago, I had a boyfriend from England who, upon arriving in the U.S., wanted to finally do what he saw as a stereotypically American thing that he had always fantasized about doing. He got a motorcycle and rode from New York out to California. It was only on arriving there and finding that all the Americans he met were vaguely amazed he had done that and thought it was outrageously “cool” that he realized that it wasn’t as typically American as he thought. Lots of things happen here. Some of them get dubbed “American” by Americans, some get dubbed “American” by outsiders, and some never get dubbed American by anyone at all.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Scott Alexander’s essay, “I Can Tolerate Anything but the Outgroup.” In it, he mentions the strange bit of “alchemy” that allows some people to appear to hate the social group to which they belong. In his essay, he explains that when people use certain words, one of which is “American,” they don’t always mean “American” in the most literally sense of the word, but a specific American subculture. Although the subculture Alexander has in mind is “guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism,” that is not the way the term was used when I was growing up. Back then, “American” signified the materialistic, suburban life the characters in Joel’s songs are rebelling against.

I don’t think Joel had any intention whatsoever of being anti-American, but when I heard that lyric more recently and it jumped out at me the way it did, I thought of it as one more drip in a constant drip, drip, drip of anti-American platitudes that was the background noise of my childhood. It is like one of Flaubert’s received ideas, only one that has remained generally unexamined. We are essentially brainwashed to hate ourselves.

When I try to find the origin of these assumptions, it can be very difficult because it’s rarely presented as a complete thought. It comes, instead, in off-hand remarks and associations that are secondary, or at least appear to be secondary, to the main subject under discussion.

I saw a map the other day the Animal’s famous hit, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, popped into my head. This was the map:
Infographic: The 20 Most Violent Cities Worldwide | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

As you can see, two of the world’s most violent cities are in the United States – and I used to live in one of them. As it happens, Baltimore only broke into the top twenty this year. A year ago, it was ranked 40th. Today, it is 19th. Now, since this is ranking rather than rate, a city could find itself moving higher without getting more unsafe if the rest of the world got safer. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In 2015, Baltimore experienced its highest per capita murder rate in its history. This is very sad.

Strangely, Business Insider chose to illustrate  its 2014 list with a photograph from Howard County, a normally safe area that is definitely not Baltimore. It is a suburban area about a half and hour to an hour’s drive away. I guess they couldn’t get a suitably scary looking photograph of Baltimore. As it happens, nothing bad happened to me in Baltimore, but I’ve been mugged twice in the significantly safer New York, although that was years ago when New York wasn’t as safe as it is today. Still, that goes to show that there is a certain amount of randomness and chance involved with crime.

Saint Louis, although within the top twenty two years in a row, has moved from nineteenth to fifteenth.

While we’re looking at this map, I would like to draw everyone’s attention to the big, empty space that is most of Africa. It is probably due to being lulled by a sense of familiarity, but I know more than a few Americans who wouldn’t think twice about going to Latin America but are afraid of Africa. (Admittedly, most Americans are afraid of Baltimore, St. Louis and Detroit.) One of my mother’s friends’ daughters recently got married and wanted to go to Africa for her honeymoon. They chose South Africa because it was “safe.” Obviously, she was functioning with serious misinformation. Although, it is worth noting that despite South Africa being statistically one of the less safe places in Africa, nothing bad happened to her and I hear they had a lovely time. I mention it, not to knock South Africa, but simply to point out the misunderstanding people seem to have.

I have a cousin. She’s about five foot six, has curly black hair, skin that’s about the color of café au lait in the summer, and a little lighter in the winter, green eyes. When she was a child, the black girls in school used to beat her up for refusing to “admit” she was biracial, or “mulatto” as they called it at the time. Her father had died when she was young and I never met him. He said he was Italian and Native American. Some people thought he was black, but he was never confronted on it. Adding to this, my cousin once confessed to me, after a few drinks, that her father was racist, couldn’t stand black people and had taught her to be racist, too. It wasn’t until she was an adult and she had a job where she became friendly with some black coworkers that she realized her father had been wrong.

One of my closest friends has two white parents. His father’s family is of English descent and his mother is Jewish. They had three biological children and two adopted children, one girl and one boy. The two adopted children were both “black.” The girl had dark skin and the boy was very light-skinned. One day, my friend, one of the biological children, said to me, “I think my brother has identity issues. He seems to think he’s white.”

The grandmother of another close friend of mine came from a Jewish family from Vienna. One day, she took out all the old family photos, including some from nineteenth century Vienna. According to my friend, looking at the photos, her mother said, “Ima, your grandmother was a schwartze.” I remember this quote because of the weird mix of Hebrew, Yiddish and English. She told me that they looked at this old picture of a woman in nineteenth century European dress, with dark skin and kinky hair and wondered where she came from. Since Jewish identity is considered to be matrilineal, this was an important question to them. After tossing around some possibilities, the finally came to the conclusion that she must have been from North Africa, although the possibility that she was from Ethiopia was also considered.

In the book Detroit: An American Autopsy, the author, Charlie LeDuff, traces his family’s migration to the city of Detroit from New Orleans. He had no reason from his appearance to think he was anything but white, yet it turns out that his grandfather was biracial, mulatto or black, depending on your definitions. LeDuff describes himself, with humor, as “the palest black man in Michigan,” but he’s probably wrong. If you subscribe to the “one drop rule”, there’s probably a blond-haired, blue-eyed person out there who is “black.”

In recent years, the “one drop rule” has been popularized by people like U.S. President Barack Obama and American actress Halle Berry. In Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, he writes very condescendingly of a woman he met in college who insisted that she was biracial and did not want to identify as solely black or white. Obama considers her to be confused, which irritated me because I have been close to several people who also felt that way and did not seem to be to be confused. In fact, since the woman he describes grew up in an intact family, with both parents, I would venture to say that, if anyone is less emotionally conflicted, it is she.

In fact, if Rachel Dolezal was able to pass as black without any postcolumbian African ancestry, it was probably due to this belief in “the one drop rule.” The one drop rule has an almost mythical status. It says that a person with even a drop of sub-Saharan African ancestry is to be considered “black.” Despite popular mythology, there was no law of this type until twentieth century. In the early twentieth century, interest in eugenics led to laws about racial mixing.

I have a book called, Strategies for Survival. It is about groups of people sometimes called “tri-racial isolates” by anthropologists. This is a subject that’s on my list of things I want to write about, but for now I’ll try to limit myself to the portion that applies to the subject at hand. The book covers several mixed race communities which identify as Native American. There are many others. One branch of my own biological family traces to a Powhatan group, making it highly possible, although not at all certain, that I myself might qualify as black according to someone who believes the one drop rule, which I don’t. These highly racially mixed tribes each have their own history and different average percentages of European, African and North American ancestry. The Powhatan tribes were heavily affected by Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924.

The Racial Integrity Act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth and divided society into only two classifications: white and colored (essentially all other, which included numerous American Indians). It defined race by the “one-drop rule”, defining as “colored” persons with any African or Native American ancestry. It also expanded the scope of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage (anti-miscegenation law) by criminalizing all marriages between white persons and non-white persons.

Strategies for Survival noted that the U.S. never had records that were up to the task. Many racially mixed people became “white” in the wake of this law. Indeed, earlier attempts to define race by law had been rejected due to the difficulty of classification.

In 1895 in South Carolina during discussion, George D. Tillman said,

It is a scientific fact that there is not one full-blooded Caucasian on the floor of this convention. Every member has in him a certain mixture of… colored blood…It would be a cruel injustice and the source of endless litigation, of scandal, horror, feud, and bloodshed to undertake to annul or forbid marriage for a remote, perhaps obsolete trace of Negro blood. The doors would be open to scandal, malice, and greed.

A well-known short story by Kate Chopin, “Désirée’s Baby” utilizes the fact that many people are unfamiliar with their own ancestry as a plot point. After the birth of a child with African features, a wealthy French Creole planter rejects his wife who was adopted as a child and had unknown origins. What he does not know is that his “French” mother who died when he was a child had African ancestry. Somehow, I imagine the husband in that story, Armand, looking not unlike Charlie LeDuff.

At the moment everyone seems shocked that Donezal was able to pass as black, but there is really nothing odd about it at all. Studies have shown that context contributes greatly to people’s perception of race. This is not the study I originally had in mind, but searching a came across a study that found

stereotypes interact with physical cues to shape person categorization, and suggest that social and contextual factors guide the perception of race.

Further evidence about how ambiguous race can be can be seen by looking at 10 Black Celebs Who Can Pass for White. In this context it is interesting to note the inclusion of Melissa Gorga, who says she is of entirely Italian descent. Apparently, some people don’t believe it.

There are quite a few odd parts of Dolezal’s story, but the question Katie Zavadski and Lizzie Crocker ask in the Daily Beast, “How did she trick so many people?”, betrays a tremendous ignorance about how we categorize and perceive race.

 

Sometimes, a gal has a bit of a wardrobe malfunction and her tit slips out of her shirt. The media, or certain sectors of the media, being full of mature, sexually liberated people, can’t stop giggling, seeing that that is what mature, sexually liberated people do when they see an unexpected tit or two. They can’t wait to share this giggly goodness with all the world, so they print the picture accompanied by mature, non-judgmental headlines like, “Hey, Everyone! Look, Tits!” Below this calm measured headline is a pixelated photo. Now, one can presume that the performer whose top accidentally slipped did not intend for her tits to be displayed on every celebrity website and it’s only reasonable that a responsible, mature gossip rag would pixelate the photos. After all, that celebrity could probably get cold hard cash for intentionally displaying her breasts and, one day, when a movie flops or a song doesn’t sell, will certainly avail herself of that bill bridging bonanza. Of course, the rarity of seeing the aforementioned tits will directly affect the size of that bonanza, and it is only reasonable that the kind gossips at the gossip rag would want to preserve those assets by a bit of protective pixelation.

Today, however, I saw something truly strange. A fashion designer I’ve never heard of before, Rick Owens is making headlines with some innovative and new clothing styles. Good for Rick! Being a responsible blogger, I’ve been buffing up my knowledge of Rick Owens. I will assume (…and please do not feel slighted by this – I assure you it’s not personal) that you too are new to Rick. How should I describe his clothes? Well, should I fall madly in love with a stylish vampire I expect he will have a lot of Rick Owens in his closet. Lots of loose black clothes, occasionally livened up with a punchy gray piece. Lots of skirts for men and tunics. The tunics are why Rick Owens has now grabbed everyone’s attention. He has designed a line of penis revealing, indeed, penis highlighting, tunics for men.

Ugly men with gorgeous penises – this is your moment! Really, my ex-husband is, or so all my friends delighted in telling me, one of the less attractive men I’ve known. Whenever a friend used to tell me how ugly my husband was (’cause that stuff about women being catty is just so made-up) I used to think to myself, and occasionally tell them, that they hadn’t seen his best feature. Really, he had a gorgeous cock. The rest of him, well, he kind of looked like Rick Owens, actually. But he had a gorgeous cock. I presume he will be running out to by a new Rick Owens tunic, or maybe five. I think women know how happy we get when a new trend actually flatters our figures. In my case, when a see that the new clothes are all a-line, just above the knee dresses in beige, I get so disappointed and can’t wait until day-glo assless chaps come back into style, because my knees are not my best feature.

All fine and good, except it’s difficult for me to properly assess the aesthetic virtues of Rick Owens’ new line because websites have seen fit to pixelate the penises. It is really quite distracting. This brings me to ask the question, “Why are the penises pixelated.” The models knew their penises would be exposed, and one would assume that they were comfortable with their penises being viewed all over the world. So, it is not consideration of the modesty of the men. These are not pornographic, or even especially sexy, photos. What is the point of the pixelation? Are their penises in the witness protection program? When the FBI got them some plastic surgery they didn’t think to bother with the cock? Is there a mobster out there somewhere checking out catwalks waiting to spot someone who looks familiar? Exactly what does anyone think will happen if we see flaccid penises swinging down the runway?

Happily, the Guardian has seen fit to publish unpixelated photos. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure that the fringe on the side works for me.

(Note to the Guardian: That’s not “full” frontal.)

People who are sensitive to other people’s feeling and try to not hurt them often don’t need to consciously try to be “p.c.” Occasionally, because I can’t always anticipate how other people feel, I make mistakes, but generally I don’t like to make people feel bad about themselves. (Admittedly, I think Joachim Phoenix does not read my blog. If he did I would be much more tactful.) Not only do I not make fun of people who are members of groups that I’ve been taught are politically marginalized, I don’t make fun of overweight people, short men, ugly people, people who are missing teeth, or any of the variety of traits that often make people feel bad about themselves.

I am hairy.

I’m half tempted to turn off the comments because the last time I brought this up I had several people say insensitive things. Yesterday, in a comment thread elsewhere, I read a comment in which a man made fun of hairy women.

I was born with very dark hair and very light skin. Worse yet, my skin is very delicate, having bad reactions to a wide variety of things. I have to be careful about what soaps I buy and what laundry detergents I use. I stay out of the sun. There’s really not much I can do about that. I’ve tried. I’ve tried different lotions and other things. The best solution is simply to avoid things that irritate my skin.

My hair, on the other hand, can take a real beating. I can bleach it, dye it, perm it, blow it dry, set it in curlers and it still looks soft and healthy. I have no idea how long it could grow. I’ve had it long enough to be able to sit on it. It grows quickly, too. This is great on my head, but on the rest of my body it’s undesirable.

Because it’s dark, it’s highly visible. I’ve seen blondes who appear to have body hair that’s denser than mine, but it’s harder to see. Because my skin is sensitive, I am limited in ways of removing it. Because it grows quickly, I have to do it often. On top of all that, I’m prone to ingrown hairs. This is not a small thing. I once wound up in the hospital because an ingrown hair had gotten infected. I had to have intravenous antibiotics. This is one of the very few health problems I’ve had in my life. I stopped shaving my legs after that. I tried waxing. That caused even more ingrown hairs. Chemical depilatories burn my skin before it affects the hair.

When I talk to other women, I get the feeling that I am slightly less inclined than average to be interested in my appearance. I am not entirely uninterested, but I don’t enjoy spending lots of time worrying about my hair or painting my nails. It bores me quickly. I’d much rather do something else with my time. However, I don’t want to be alone. I like sex. I would like to have much more sex than I am currently having. Currently, I’m a little bit lonely and very sexually frustrated. Men, however, will not be interested in me unless I spend a lot more time and money on my appearance than I would if I followed my own inclinations.

In the interests of making myself desirable to men, I have spent a hell of a lot of time, and way to much money, trying to get rid of body hair. Finally, I got the laser hair removal, a very expensive and time-consuming process, done on my legs. I still have to shave under my arms and I haven’t yet come up with a solution for the pubic area.

Women are no better than men in this regard. They make fun of me, too.

I am alone and I don’t want to be alone. Men don’t have to remind me that I’m too unattractive to be loved. I know that every night of my life.

Sometimes going on the internet feels like I’m opening myself up to emotional abuse that I don’t otherwise get in my daily life. Men on the internet seem to think that comments making fun of traits they find unappealing is normal behavior. Sometimes, I take breaks from the internet for no other reason than this.

Okay, I’m an adult woman, a serious, intellectual type person. I don’t want to admit that I play games. It’s even more embarrassing to admit that I’ve paid money to play games. You know, I’m supposed to be spending my money on having my vulva waxed, or something like that. You know, paying a hundred bucks to lie back with my legs spread and screaming while a stranger who doesn’t speak English rips several hundred hairs out by their roots at a go, and does that for about twenty minutes. All that so I will be qualified to allow some stinky guy in t-shirt with a day old beard come in my mouth while he looks at pictures at younger, prettier, thinner women.

Yes, I’m getting a little obsessed with getting laid again. I know, you’re all bracing yourselves. It’s okay. I’m not depressed. I just refuse to lie about it. I want to get laid. I don’t want to spend lots of money or time worrying about my appearance. I know some guys will say, then what do you expect? True enough, but then don’t give me any of that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus crap about how men want sex and women don’t. Don’t give me any of that crap about how nice guys can’t get laid. If you’re willing to put your cock inside a hairy pussy and will be minimally polite about a woman’s appearance while doing it, you can get laid. If you want a twenty year old starlet to dance all around you while you do nothing to even get her aroused, yeah, you can’t get laid.

Anywhooo… I thought I might distract myself from my lousy sex life by playing a game.

I had some technical problems and the game wouldn’t launch, so I went online to look for a solution. Now, I never got past this screen, but it stopped this grumpy old bitch in her tracks.

ten cartoonish images of men.Maybe I’ll go amuse myself by masturbating.

 

The other day, while discussing sexual assault on college campuses, I wrote, “there exist people in the world who will watch for a vulnerability and attack when they see one.” The next day, I came across an article that drove home that point. It was about sexual assault and disabled people.

… women with disabilities are one of the most at-risk demographics in the world. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a staggering 80 percent of disabled women are sexually assaulted, and the rates are even higher for women with cognitive disabilities.

Nor is it only women. According to The Arc, an organization which represents people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,

Researchers have found that men with disabilities are twice as likely to become a victim of sexual violence compared to men without disabilities.

We all, I think, know of the stereotype of the drunk woman at a party who is sexually assaulted. It is not just being drunk, however. It is anything that might make you more vulnerable than another potential target, being small, being disabled, even being too trusting.

For more on this subject, you can read “#yesallwomen Includes Women with disabilities.”

 

On news related internet sites, I keep reading about the subject of sexual assault and colleges. One subject keeps popping up, fraternities and how they foster certain attitudes about sex and women. “Stepford Sororities,” by Maya Richard Craven, talked about how the writer’s acquaintances changed after they joined sororities. More recently, UVA suspended fraternities after a gang rape was reported in Rolling Stone magazine. There seems to be a new story everyday. This situation is not new, however.

I’ve gotten to an age and I can now look back and I can say which decisions I made were right and which ones were wrong. One of the right decisions was that I chose to only look at schools where fraternities and sororities were not a major part of the social life. Most of the schools I considered had none. I wasn’t thinking about rape and sexual assault. I simply found the entire atmosphere associated with fraternities to be not to my taste. I had been bullied a little bit in middle school, before I was able to turn the situation around and managed to actually become popular. One thing this incident had taught me about myself is that I am an iconoclast. Conforming to larger social groups is not the route to a happy life for me. I do best when I go my own way and do what I want to do, when I function from the assumption that my friendship has value. This was my route out of a bad school situation. You dress however you want. You do whatever past times you like. Listen to the music you prefer. Maintain your own opinions on books and movies. Most importantly, associate with the friends you like most and date the boys you want without worrying whether or not other people approve.

It is inherent in the nature of fraternities that the individual is subsumed by the group. You become part of a mob, and the mentality that goes with it. I know some people will argue that their own fraternity was not like the ones that are raping women, and I’m sure that’s true. Still, the repression of individuality is an inevitable part of fraternities. Gang rapes are a symptom of a larger sickness, a sickness that asks its victims to abandon their conscience to that of the mob, to curry favor with the group, to behave in ways that will get group approval. Colleges should be nurturing the individual conscience and intellect, not encouraging mob behavior.

This doesn’t mean that going to a school that has no fraternities will mean that you will never be assaulted. As a small person who has been physically assaulted on multiple occasions, both sexual and not, there exist people in the world who will watch for a vulnerability and attack when they see one. However, it is far less likely to be done by a mob, and, even more importantly, if it does occur, you will not be subject to the social pressures of that very same mob.

If you’re getting accepted to the University of Virginia, in all likelihood you have choices. It’s a fine school and one I might have considered myself if they didn’t have fraternities and sororities. In the end, I went to a small liberal arts school. A lack of frats didn’t mean we had no wild parties. What we didn’t have was social exclusion. Twice a year we had weekend long parties. The cool kids, the poets, the theatre freaks, the coke sluts, the dykes, the queers, the science nerds, those people who hung out in the basement and played D and D, we all got drunk as hell, stripped off our clothes and danced in the moonlight. If we consumed more beer than we had the year before, we thought we’d done an admirable job. So, do know that when I’m railing against fraternities I’m not arguing against fun or partying.

Despite what you see in the movies, all schools don’t have frats. Mine didn’t. My sister’s school didn’t. Many of them are very good schools. Gang rapes are a symptom of a larger problem. Go to a school without fraternities.

Addition: After rereading what I wrote, it occurred to me that it is also good advice for young men. Further more, when I wrote, “a sickness that asks its victims to abandon their conscience,” I actually was seeing the men as victims as well.

It seems that certain themes hit the internet in waves. Perhaps a news story triggers it, or perhaps an event in someone’s life. Then there’s a blog post, then another. Next thing you know, it seems like everyone has to let the world know their opinion on the subject. For the past week and a half, perhaps two weeks, street harassment seems to be the theme. Specifically, the subject has been catcalling. I can’t say that I like it and I agree with most of the evaluations that feminists have said about it. On the other hand, as someone who has been groped on multiple occasions, who has had high school teachers come onto me, who has been told that I couldn’t do certain things, like math, because I had the wrong genitalia, who has received career counseling in which I’ve been given advice based on my gender, who’s constantly being told that I don’t have the sexual feelings I do have, and who knows on the global scale of things I’ve had it pretty easy, catcalling falls pretty low on my list of priorities.

However, I was looking at all the responses about catcalling and I do have to say one thing stood out. Regarding a video that came out showing a woman being catcalled as she walked down the street, a guest on CNN, Steve Santagati, said, “The bottom line is this, ladies, you would not care if all these guys were hot.” Actually, he has a point. Now, he blew it after that statement by going a little too far in trying to explain how women think. He continued, “They would be bolstering your self-esteem, bolstering your ego. There is nothing more that a woman loves to hear than how pretty she is.”

I don’t know about how other women feel, but there are a lot of things I love more than hearing how pretty I am. For instance, having a really hot guy on top of me, thrusting in and out, is definitely something I love more than hearing how pretty I am. In fact, if I like hearing a hot guy tell me how pretty I am, it’s probably because the possibility of having the hot guy thrusting in and out some time in the near future has just increased.

Now, the thing that I, as a woman, have never really understood about catcalling is why men do it. Exactly what are they trying to accomplish? My own suspicion, and since I’m not a guy it’s just a guess, is that they are trying to get a woman’s attention because it’s a cheap thrill. Now, to be frank about it, I have no problems with cheap thrills when I’m the one enjoying them. The other day, I wore a plunging neckline and I caught a very nice looking man’s eyes looking at my breasts. He didn’t say anything and the glance was brief enough to remain well within the bounds of socially acceptable behavior. It didn’t “bolster my ego.” It gave me sexual thoughts and a not unpleasant feeling between my thighs. Now, I walked by quite a few other men that day, and many of them glanced at my cleavage. For better or worse, it was only when “hot guys” looked at me that I had a sexual response.

Now, no one said anything, and if they had it would have suddenly turned from a light, cheap thrill to something uncomfortable. I’m sure if I had said anything, the men would have felt uncomfortable, too. For better or worse, there are social codes about when you are, or are not allowed to say anything, how long you are allowed to look at someone before we call it staring, how much eye contact is acceptable. This is all culturally embedded and varies from one culture to another. It’s something that we internalized and act on it in a nearly subconscious fashion.

In another cleavage related story, on New Year’s Eve there was this absolutely adorable bartender. He had a cute face, and every time he turned around I couldn’t help noticing that he had an even cuter ass. Really, I’m not an ass woman, but this was one that even I could appreciate. I was wearing a dress with a deep v-neck. At one point, the adorable bartender was pouring cheap bubbly directly from the bottle into my mouth. A bit ran down my chin, then dropped onto my chest and rolled down my breast. The bartender’s eyes followed the droplet. I wanted to make a comment about how maybe he’d like to lick it off. Despite the vulgar things running through my head, I said nothing because, after all, he was at work and just as an attractive female bartender is not sexually available to every guy who comes into a bar, neither are male bartenders. So, I had my cheap little thrill, which would have been a little less thrilling if the bartender was less handsome. I can only speculate that it might have been more of a thrill for him if I had been closer to his age rather than nearly old enough to be his mother.

Part of the skill of flirting, when it’s done right, is that the level of engagement is slowly escalated, leaving the other person the opportunity to end the situation gracefully, without a conflict or hurt feelings. The right type of smile or a raised eyebrow, and perhaps I would have made my lewd comment to the bartender. Even still, I’d have to be aware that I would have been running the risk of a cold response. And I think we’ve all made the occasional misjudgement and we should be forgiving about honest miscues.

So, it’s an itty bitty thrill when we get a bit of attention from a member of our preferred gender, and it’s a little disappointment when we find someone attractive and he or she does not reciprocate our attention. It’s perfectly normal to walk down the street and have sexual feelings when you see an attractive person. At some point, however, when you become aware that you’re making the other person uncomfortable, you just have to back off. But I think maybe the best way to get men to be less verbally aggressive on the street is to frankly acknowledge that it has to do with whether or not we find the man in question sexually appealing. If a you’re man on the street and you tell a woman she’s beautiful and she doesn’t even acknowledge the compliment with a smile, well, maybe she’s not that into you.